The Oregon Trail Trading Post with Jennifer Uhlarik!

Hi everyone. Jennifer Uhlarik here. Have you ever thought of what traveling along the Oregon Trail is like? While I am fascinated with the idea of our forefathers traveling months along the path to make a life in the wilds of Oregon or other western places, the thought of being that far from civilization—particularly someplace to replenish supplies—is a frightening one. Keeping it real here: I live 2 miles from the grocery store, and it’s waaaaayyyyyy too easy for me to wait until 5 pm some nights to decide what I’m making for dinner, then rush off to the store for supplies. Our ancestors on the Oregon Trail didn’t have such luxuries! They had to pack enough stores to do life until they reached a trading post or fort to buy more.

So how did these trading posts get their start and what were they like?

As early as the 1500’s, French and English fishermen were sailing to the coast of Newfoundland to fish for cod. It was here that they encountered some local Indian tribes who were anxious to trade for metal goods. In order to obtain the iron pots, pans, knives and tools they coveted, the Indians offered beaver pelts, which they could provide in great quantities. It took the fishermen little time to sell the pelts once they returned home, and people quickly realized that the soft underfur of a beaver pelt made a wonderful felt for hat-making. With a growing demand for beaver pelts, both France and England began to explore North America with the intent to colonize it. Not long after, France began setting up trading posts in Quebec. Of course, England’s Hudson Bay Company moved into the area as well, sending traders and trappers across parts of Canada and the American frontier. Wherever they went, Hudson Bay Company set up trading posts to barter with the native population.

As life on the frontier changed from a focus on the fur trade to a focus on Westward Expansion, many of the old trading posts lived on. The owners of the posts continued to trade with the Indian tribes, but they also became outposts where white travels and settlers could get supplies. These small outposts provided staples like coffee, tea, rice, tins of hardtack biscuits, dried fruit, or canned goods. They also offered tools and utensils, such as cast iron pots, kettles, knives, and axes, saddles, and flint and steel for starting fires. Customers could trade for textiles, such as beaver-felt hats, blankets, bandanas, ribbon, thread, needles, and fabric. Ornamental or decorative supplies were commonly found, anything from silver to beads and beyond. And of course, guns, ammunition, and other shooting supplies were a common item found in these trading posts.

I’m sure you can imagine, life on the frontier could be lonely and supplies might be hard to come by. You had to learn to live with what you had…and make do until you could restock. Often, these trading posts were lifesavers, keeping people from starving or doing without until they reached the next major stop on their journey west. Or they might have prevented settlers from having to make a long trek to the nearest town or city, which might be days or weeks away. They certainly weren’t as convenient as today’s 7-Eleven, but I’m betting they were welcome stopovers to more than a few of our ancestors.


It’s your turn: If you had lived in times past, would you have liked to live on the frontier where a trading post might be your nearest source of supplies, or would you have preferred to live in a town or city? I’ll be giving away one paperback copy of The Oregon Trail Romance Collection to one reader who leaves a comment.


Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list several times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children. Follow Jennifer at


The Oregon Trail Romance Collection

Nine romantic adventures take readers along for a ride on the Oregon Trail where daily challenges force travelers to evaluate the things that are most precious to them—including love. Enjoy the trip through a fascinating part of history through the eyes of remarkably strong characters who stop at famous landmarks along the way. Watch as their faith is strengthened and as love is born despite unique circumstances. Discover where the journey ends for each of nine couples.


Click HERE to buy


Following the Oregon Trail

Source: Wikipedia Commons, photo by Mike Tigas

Before I was a romance writer, I was a voracious romance reader. My reading of choice in those early days was historical romance, particularly American-set historicals. There were two facets of American history that drew me more than any others — Colonial/Revolution and Westerns. So it wasn’t a stretch that the first manuscript I ever wrote was set along the Oregon Trail. And since my sister moved to the Northwest, I’ve taken opportunities over the years to go on road trips to see her instead of flying (which I don’t like anyway).

During one of these trips, I got to see with my own eyes several of the Oregon Trail sites that I’d researched and written about in that first manuscript. I was fascinated to travel in the steps of those brave men and women who headed out for a new life, who traveled into the largely unknown landscape that was filled with danger on a daily basis.

Source: Wikipedia Commons, Scotts Bluff National Monument – Panorama. August 2006. Author: Kahvc7

Nebraska and Wyoming are often considered flyover states, but there’s so much to see, so much history to be absorbed if you take to the roads instead. One of the famous landmarks Oregon Trail travelers looked for on their journey was Chimney Rock in present Morrill County, Nebraska. This geological feature made of a combination of clay, volcanic ash and sandstone has a peak nearly 300 feet above the surrounding North Platte River valley. Travelers along the California and Mormon trails also used it as a landmark. You can see it today from US Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. Learn more at the Chimney Rock National Historic Site website.

Source: Wikipedia Commons, photo by Chris Light

About 20 miles to the northwest of Chimney Rock, also along Nebraska Highway 92, is Scotts Bluff National Monument near the town of Gering. This collection of bluffs on the south side of the North Platte River was first documented by non-native people when fur traders began traveling through the area in the early 1800s. It was noted to be among the first indications that the flatness of the Great Plains was beginning to give way to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It’s named after Hiram Scott, a fur trader who died near the bluff in 1828, though the Native peoples of the area called it “Me-a-pa-te” or “the hill that is hard to go around.”

Oregon Trail Ruts near Guernsey, WY. Source: Wikipedia Commons, photo by Paul Hermans

After crossing into Wyoming, another National Park Service site preserving trail history is Fort Laramie National Historic Site, which sits at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte rivers. It has a rich history as a frontier trading post and then an Army post up until its decommission and transfer out of the final troops in 1890. The fort also has appeared in pop culture, including in the Oregon Trail and Age of Empires video games, the 1955 movie White Feather, and a 1950s CBS radio drama called, appropriately, Fort Laramie. You can learn more at the Fort Laramie NHS website.

Perhaps one of the most amazing things you can still see today along the Oregon Trail are actual ruts made by the thousands of heavily loaded wagons heading west. This physical evidence made me feel closer to those long-ago travelers than anything else. One of the places you can see these ruts is Oregon Trail Ruts, a National Historic Landmark near Guernsey, Wyoming.

To learn more about the Oregon National Historic Trail overseen by the National Park Service throughout seven states, visit their site. I hope to be able to visit even more trail sites in the future. I’d especially like to see Independence Rock in Wyoming and more end-of-the-trail sites in Oregon.

Have you ever traveled to historic sites you’ve either written or read about? What were your favorites? I’ll give away a signed copy of A Rancher to Love, part of my Blue Falls, Texas series from Harlequin Western Romance to one commenter.

Happy trails!


A Kiss to Remember

On July 28—that’s only three days from now—A Kiss to Remember will release. It’s an anthology of five books by authors we know and (hopefully) love to read.

Her Sanctuary


Her Sanctuary by Tracy Garrett

Beautiful Maggie Flanaghan’s heart is broken when her father dies suddenly and the westward-bound wagon train moves on without her, leaving her stranded in River’s Bend. But Reverend Kristoph Oltmann discovers the tender beginnings of love as he comforts Maggie, only to find she harbors a secret that could make their relationship impossible







Gabriel’s Law by Cheryl Pierson

Brandon Gabriel is hired by the citizens of Spring Branch to hunt down the notorious Clayton Gang, never suspecting a double-cross. When Allison Taylor rides into town for supplies, she doesn’t expect to be sickened by the sight of a man being beaten to death by a mob—a man she recognizes from her past. Spring Branch’s upstanding citizens gather round to see a murder, but everything changes with the click of a gun—and Gabriel’s Law.


Outlaw Heart


Outlaw Heart, by Tanya Hanson

Making a new start has never been harder! Bronx Sanderson is determined to leave his old outlaw ways behind and become a decent man. Lila Brewster is certain that her destiny lies in keeping her late husband’s dream alive: a mission house for the down-and-out of Leadville, Colorado. But dreams change when love flares between an angel and a man with an Outlaw Heart.





The Dumont Way

The Dumont Way by Kathleen Rice Adams

The biggest ranch in Texas will give her all to save her children…but only the right woman’s love can save a man’s tortured soul. This trilogy of stories about the Dumont family contains The Trouble with Honey, a new, never-before-published novella. Nothing will stop this powerful family from doing things The Dumont Way.





YESTERDAYS FLAME PRP WebYesterday’s Flame by Livia J. Washburn

When smoke jumper Annabel Lowell’s duties propel her from San Francisco in 2000 back to 1906, she faces one of the worst earthquakes in history. But she also finds the passion of a lifetime in fellow fireman Cole Brady. Now she must choose between a future of certain danger and a present of certain love—no matter how short-lived it may be. “A timeless and haunting tale of love.” ~ The Literary Times





I’m thrilled to be a part of this anthology with such amazing talents. So thrilled, I’m giving away one electronic (mobi) copy! All you have to do to enter is tell me why you love western historical romance in a comment (include your email address) and I’ll pick a winner tomorrow (July 26).


"Wagons, Ho!" by Agnes Alexander

Agnes AlexanderThe first time I visited the states west of the Mississippi I knew I’d one day write a book set in that beautiful country.  At the time I was immersed in raising my daughter, working as a human resource manager and writing short stories and articles for the local newspaper, children’s Sunday school papers and regional magazines. I even wrote and sold three children’s books based on the work I did at my church with young people.  But the idea of writing novels stayed in the back of my mind.
Fiona's_JourneyFinally, I decided I’d waited long enough. I began writing novels. Three of those first attempts still rest in my desk drawer, but I sold my fourth manuscript – a mystery. Thirteen more mystery, romantic suspense, and mainstream books followed. Then I joined RWA and Carolina Romance Writers where I sat across the table from my idol and fellow member, Harold Lowery (aka Leigh Greenwood).  To say I was awed, is putting it mildly. He remarkedthat people should write what they like to read most. Well, I had not only read everything he’d published, I’d read some of them twice and three times.
RenaCowboy_smI came home, put my mystery writing on hold, pulled out all the pictures from my three vacations in the west. I then took a trip to my favorite used bookstore and bought stacks of western romance novels by a variety of authors. In three months I’d read 200 novels and felt I had a grip on what publishers wanted. Satisfied I knew what to do, I sat down and wrote my first western historical romance. It was a time travel western that didn’t sell at the time, but I wasn’t deterred. I looked through my notes and saw I had a lot of information on wagon trains. I also remembered ‘Western the Women,’ one of my favorite movies, and felt I had to write a novel about pioneers going west.
The large Conestoga wagons were too long and heavy to make the trip so the prairie schooner became the wagon of choice. Many of the immigrants traveling westconverted their farm wagons into ones that could make the trip. Oxen were recommended to pull these wagons because they had no trouble eating the different grasses, though some families chose mules and others horses. One of the most interesting items in my research was the list that many wagon masters put together about what a family needed in the way of food, clothing, and tools to make this journey.
camillaCOVERFood recommended for each adult: 150 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of corn meal, 50 pounds of bacon, 40 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of coffee, 5 pounds of salt, 5 pounds of rice, 15 pounds of dried fruit and 15 pounds of dried beans. For each child: 1/2 to 2/3 of an adult portion.Many travelers added their favorite foods such as tea, potatoes, dried vegetables and other items. Some brought along a cow for milk to drink and butter, which was churned in a barrel tied to the side of the wagon as the vehicle swayed and bounced along the trail.
Clothing: Each person brought at least two changes of clothes and undergarments, multiple pairs of boots (two to three pairs often wore out on the trip because most people walked). Wool was recommended because it held up well and deflected the sun better than cotton. A sewing kit was a must because items tended to wear out or get torn.
Other necessities were rifles, hand guns, knives, tobacco, ropes, tents, tin dishes, soap, simple cooking utensils, bedding, matches, and medical supplies such as herbs, whiskey, and simple remedies.
Costs could run between $600 and $1,000 to outfit a wagon for this journey.
The book I wrote about the Oregon Trail is Fiona’s Journey, whichcame out in 2012 and was my first published western romance. I now have six western romances published and hope to write many more since I feel I’ve found my place in the writing world.
I love hearing from readers. You can contact me at my websiteor by email at


Thank you for inviting me to write a blog for Petticoats & Pistols. To show my appreciation I’m offering an autographed print copy of Fiona’s Journey, Rena’s Cowboy (the time-travel I mention above and my latest novel Camilla’s Daughters for drawings. Just leave a comment to be entered.

Angel Child…and an Angel Pin for Somebody~Tanya Hanson

When my novella Hearts Crossing Ranch led to a contract for seven more books, I knew I’d have to stretch my imagination and my daily experiences to concoct stories about the eight Martin siblings of my fictional Colorado ranch. A ranch! Me, living on a cul-de-sac in a coastal California community surrounded by strawberries and avocados. Not horses and cows! With the first book set on a city slicker wagon train trip–similar to the one we took around the Tetons not long ago, I looked back on that breathtaking experience for more inspiration.

And I found it in Heather, a severely disabled fourteen year old who went on the trip with her family. Unable to talk or stand or walk unaided, she nonetheless had the time of her life. The last day, when wagon master Jeff put her on a gentle horse for her very first ride, everybody cheered. Tears ran down our faces. She was the prettiest cowgirl ever.

Somehow that moment stuck. You’ll meet a disabled young girl in Angel Child, my upcoming release, who comes to Hearts Crossing for therapy riding lessons.  Closer to home, though, is my twenty-something godson, born with the extremely rare, and in his case, extremely debilitating Angelman Syndrome, who inspired fictional Creighton in the book.  In the story, the disabled ten year old boy manages to steal Scott Martin’s heart as the handsome cowboy falls in love with Creighton’s mom…his former high school art teacher. Oh, who cares about the age difference? They’re grown up now. Mary Grace Gibson has returned to Hearts Crossing as a substitute teacher, and the scene below shows her dealing with a disagreeable student, Keith.

I hope you enjoy Angel Child, my tribute to disabled kids everywhere and the people who love them. The power of forgiveness is a pretty big theme, too. (I always seem to need a lot of that, and to give it, too.)

Anyway, leave a comment today for a drawing for either a pdf copy of Angel Child, book six in the series, or the Kindle version. (Kindle’ll be available next weekend.) As well as this darling baby angel pin from Carla’s Angels.

Hot, living blood ran through his veins. Scott rushed to her, she to him. They met in front of the teacher’s desk, and he wrapped her tight in his arms against his beating heart.

“Aw, Mary Grace,” he mumbled into her hair.

Desire stabbed him straight in the gut, rich searing feelings that surged into love and made him tremble. OK, he could admit it now. Love. He could say the word inside his head. Love. Soon he’d get courageous enough to tell her out loud. He’d been smitten last summer, but these past days with her in his life, at his ranch, at his side whether on horseback or discussing the therapy program finally merged the physical with the emotional, and he knew full well what it all meant.

Scott Martin was in love. In love. Reaching down, he took her face between his palms and lowered his mouth to hers. His lips closed over hers as if he was breathing in a new kind of life, and her mouth nibbled against his. Heat raged but turned to contentment as he the cuddled her close to rid her shudders. “Oh, you are so beautiful.”

“I can return that compliment,” she murmured, their lips still one. “I didn’t like not getting to say goodbye this morning,”

“I didn’t like not getting to say goodbye last night. I missed you.” His arms tightened and they stood melded, both holding the other upright as Scott willed his love to wash over them both.

“Ooooops. Sor-reee.” A whine split the air.

Startled, they broke apart like a quick sword had sliced between them.

“Oops. Sorry,” Keith Murphy repeated, not looking the least abashed. He made a big show about bobbing his head and peering closely at Scott. “Hey, you’re Scott Martin, right? You did my mom’s website for the mercantile.”

Mary Grace ran her hands through her hair to tidy it, cheeks glowing with a furious, beautiful flush. “I told you you’re dismissed, Keith.”

“I just had one last question, Ms. Gibson.” He waggled a smartphone at her. “How come Grant Gibson’s website doesn’t say a thing about Cray-ton It says he lives in Florida with his second wife Marla and their three kids Morse, Mason, and McKenna. You sort of get alluded to, a first wife, I mean, if there’s already a second. But not your so-called son.”

He stood insolent, his sneer so wide Scott held back a swat. Beside him, Mary Grace’s flush turned snow white. 

 Blurb:  Determined to get her life back on track,  Mary Grace Gibson takes on a substitute-teaching  job, grateful for the room and board offered at Hearts Crossing Ranch. The bustling family life helps her heal after abandonment by her ex. But her little boy’s serious disabilities make her cautious about revealing her secrets to anybody. Even Scott Martin, the handsome cowboy who’s fast stealing her heart.

Her former student now grown up, cowboy and graphic artist Scott Martin is instantly drawn to the beautiful single mom. She’s had some hard luck but never let go of her faith. Their age gap doesn’t fret him, and their kisses ignite his love. But as they fall for each other, Mary Grace’s lack of trust in him shatters his feelings, for he’s been down that broken trail before.

(Click on cover to purchase or for notification.)

It All Started With A Wagon Train . . .

Readers and interviewers often ask about what got me interested in writing western romances. Well, there’s a reason my logo features a wagon wheel. It all started with a wagon train.

The early seeds were planted with Laura Ingalls and Little House on the Prairie, both the books and the television series. But it wasn’t until the late 80’s when I was a senior in high school that the love affair truly began. I can still recall standing in a bookstore  during one of those high school band trip time killers – you know, the ones where the bus pulls up to the local mall and lets the kids loose on the food court and shops with the only perameter being, “Meet back here by 5:30.” Well, where else would I spend time but in a bookstore? Besides, I needed something to read on the bus ride home.

I sat staring at the shelves, picking up book after book but not realy finding anything I liked. Then a friend (a boy, no less!) suggested I try Dana Fuller Ross’s Wagon’s West Series. Apparently his sister liked them. I picked up Independence!, the first in the series, and was instantly hooked. I can’t remember how many I ended up reading, but I think I read at least the first 8, up through Nevada! There were 24 total in the series.

Now that my appetite for romance and adventure on the western trail had been whetted, I sought more. Imagine my delight when I stumbled across Saturday reruns of the old westerns from the 50’s and 60’s. Bonanza. The Big Valley. The Rifleman. I loved them all.

Yet when I saw a promo for Wagon Train, teenage heart palpitations nearly sent me into a swoon. I’d thought Pernell Roberts was to-die-for as Adam Cartwright, but when I caught a glimpse of Robert Fuller as the trail scout, Cooper Smith, I was in love. And the fact that the channel only showed Wagon Train for a short time before discontinuing it, only made my heart grow fonder. We were star-crossed lovers, Cooper and I, held apart by a tragic whim of fate.

About this same time, my best friend got me hooked on old movies. We’d go to the video store and try out everything from Audrey Hepburn to Fred Astaire. I started watching the classic movie channel on TV as well. And that’s where I found it. My favorite western movie of all time. Westward the Women.

Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad. Most haven’t. It doesn’t star John Wayne or Gary Cooper. In fact, nearly the entire cast is female. Odd for a western, right? But that’s part of the reason I loved it. That and the fact that it all takes place on a . . . you guessed it . . . wagon train.

In the story, a land developer arranges for the transport of moral, able-bodied women to travel from Chicago to his settlement in California to become wives to the frontiersmen there. The women have a variety of motivations for joining the train. Some are in financial straits. Some have lost husbands and have no where else to go. Some are simply looking to make a new start. The wagon master has serious doubts about their ability to cope with the arduous demands of the journey and tries to convince the land developer to give up on the scheme. The women prove tougher than he expects, though, and with a little training on firearms and team driving, they set out. As the wagon master’s respect for the women in his care grows so do the women’s respect for themselves. The film destroys sterotypes of women as the weaker sex. And the central love story between the wagon master and the French saloon dancer who is looking to leave her past behind demonstrates that love really does conquor all.

Westward the Women came out in 1951 and was based on a concept idealized by Hollywood legend, Frank Capra, after he read an article in a 1940’s magazine about a group of South American women who crossed the Isthmus to become brides for a group of male settlers. It was filmed the Utah mountains and California desert and all the actresses were given extensive training in handling frontier weapons, bullwhip cracking, blacksmithing, horseback riding, mule driving, and assembling and disassembling covered wagons. My writer’s research heart is drooling in envy.

Alas, Netflix doesn’t carry it, so I might have to find a copy I can purchase. Because even though I haven’t seen it in probably 20 years or more, I still remember it in vivid detail. I still want to be like those women–tough, determined, and ready to take on any challenge this journey of life throws at me.

So what about you? What got you started on western romances? Books, movies, television, growing up on a ranch? I’d love to hear your story!

The Colonel, the Calf Wagon and the Chuckwagon

I’ve heard it said that you learn something new every day … and today was certainly one of them.  To my surprise, when I was reviewing my research for today’s blog, I discovered something new … the chuckwagon wasn’t named for its inventor, Colonel Charles Goodnight!

Colonel Goodnight was the first permanent rancher in the Texas Panhandle. Although he wasn’t a native Texan, he got here as quick as he could. At the age of nine, Charlie traveled with his family 800 miles from his home in Illinois to Waco, Texas, riding bareback on a mare called Blaze. As a youth he was a fairly good horse jockey, bull whacker, rail splitter and herded cattle.  He served during the Civil War and was a Scout and Guide with the infamous Texas Rangers. After the war, he devoted his career almost exclusively to cattle. 

At the age of thirty, he blazed his first famous cattle trail … the Goodnight-Loving Trail. He was one of the first cattlemen who recognized that the same head worth $4.00 in the Texas Panhandle was worth ten times that in the markets farther north.  Goodnight also was the first to recognize that calves born on the trail were money at the end of the drive…but only if they survived and gained weight. The early practice was to kill calves because they could not keep up with the herd on their own.  Cattleman Goodnight resolved that issue by contracting to have special wagons made that held 30 to 40 calves.  Any calves born on the trail werepicked up by the drovers and put on the “calf wagon” for the day’s drive.  When nightfall came, the calves were turned out with their mothers to nurse.

Goodnight soon discovered he had another problem on his hands. A cow knows her own calf by its smell and The Colonel found that when he put different calves together in the “calf wagon” during the day, their scents mixed. Thus, they were rejected by their mamas and would eventually starve to death. He then ordered his drovers to place each calf in its own separate sack, leaving the calf’s head out and tying the sack around its neck. The sacks were numbered so that the same calf went into the same sack each morning after being with its mother at night. The calves rode safely in the calf wagon during the day and spend the night with their mamas. The calves arrived at market healthy and in good shape. That meant increased profits at the end of the drive. I can only imagine what his cattle drives looked like. 

Cattle typically follow a lead steer and for many of his drives, Goodnight’s lead steer was “Old Blue”. According to legend, this famous steer helped lead a thousand head 250 miles up to Dodge City. That accomplished, Old Blue then turned around and trotted back home with the cowboys.

Known as the “Pulse of the Panhandle,” Goodnight helped organize the Panhandle Stock Association of Texas to fight rustling.   In the 1870’s when it became apparent that the hide hunters would eventually exterminate the buffalo, with the encouragement of his wife, he started his own herd of domestic buffalo.  When buffalo products became exceedingly scarce such things as hides, robes, mounted heads and horns became a hot commodity. Buffalo meat was a high-priced luxury.

As time went on, friends began to comment that Goodnight with his mop of shaggy hair over bright dark eyes topped a massive, strong body, which with age, showed a hump rounding his shoulders … became increasing likened to his beloved buffalo.  You can decide for yourself from the undoctored, certainly not Photoshopped, picture of Goodnight and a buffalo. He attracted international attention with his breed of “cattalo”, a crossbreed with a buffalo bull and Angus heifer. They could handle the high altitude and sever winters of a buffalo and resulted in a meatier animal.  For me personally, a hundred and fifty years later, I’d say they had a buffalo body with the face and horns of a longhorn.

Up to this point, I could have written most of this with very little research. I was born and raised in the Texas Panhandle, so I’ve spent all of my life knowing about Goodnight and his innovative ways of ranching. I’ve visited the town named after him. My upcoming novella in “Give Me a Texas Outlaw” is set in his dugout in Palo Duro Canyon, and I’ve visited his grave many times.  But, the one thing he created that I presumed was named from him … the chuckwagon, wasn’t!

Prior to the chuckwagon, Cowboys often relied on eating what they carried in their saddle bags such as dried beef, corn fitters or biscuits. It didn’t take Goodnight long to discover that a well-fed cowboy is a happy one. 

Traveling the trail everyday carrying minimal baggage in hot, uncomfortable weather was tough on a cowboy.  In 1866, Charles saw his opportunity and began on his new invention – the chuckwagon.  He basically redesigned a Studebaker wagon to fit a cowboy’s needs.  The Studebaker was a tough Army surplus wagon that could last months of hard driving on the trails.  Goodnight designed his very own chuck box, containing a number of shelves and drawers.  He fitted this to the back of the wagon and it served to keep the cook’s things in order.  The box had a hinged lid, and when the cook (nicknamed “cookie”) shut it, he would have a perfect surface to fix meals on.  A water barrel holding a two days’ water supply was also attached to the wagon alongside a row of hooks, boxes, brackets, and a coffee grinder.  Goodnight also hung hammock-style canvas under the wagon to carry wood and kindling, which was scarce on the prairies.  An additional wagon box was used to carry the cowboys’ bedrolls, personal items, and food supplies.  Goodnight’s genius invention is used in cattle drives to this day. By 1880, Studebaker had created a model called the “Round – Up” wagon.

The chuckwagon was equipped with all kinds of supplies needed along the trail.  We typically think of a chuckwagon being used for food and cooking gear, but the supplies would also include ferrier and blacksmith tools for horseshoeing or making repairs to the wagon and horse tack. Sewing needles for mending clothing or saddles, first aid and alcohol tonics used for medicinal purposes. Bedrolls and rain slickers for the drovers. One side was equipped with a large wooden barrel to carry a two day supply of water. The other side often had a tool box, as well a smaller attached wooden box in front called the jockey box. Additionally, the wagon would have a canvas cover called a bonnet that had been treated in linseed oil to repel rain keeping items in the wagon dry. To allow headroom in the wagon, bows where added raising the canvas and providing securing points.

Now you know why I figured the chuckwagon was named for Chuck Goodnight, although I have to admit I’ve heard him called “The Colonel”, Charles, and Charlie, but never Chuck.

To my surprise, the name chuckwagon wasn’t derived from Goodnight’s given name, but came from 17th Century England as meat merchants who referred to their lower priced goods as “Chuck”. By the 18th Century, the term “chuck” was communicated towards good hearty food. It is of no wonder to take the name chuck for Goodnight’s simple creativity that revolutionized the cattle industry. I’m presuming here but figure that’s where a Chuck Roast and Ground Chuck got its name.

I couldn’t talk about Charles Goodnight without showing you all a picture of his gravesite as it is today.  Some of my writer friends, and my coauthors, never miss an opportunity to visit his grave when we’re near it. The Goodnight Cemetery is on the edge of the Caprock about five miles off the beaten track. It overlooks what was his land and it’s truly one of the most beautiful sights one could imagine.  You’d really have to know what you’re looking for to find it. 

On a visit about two years ago, we discovered that there were bandanas tied all over the fence surrounding his grave.  All kinds, some we could recognize by the markings; commemorative bandanas and organizations, but most were just plain everyday bandanas like those worn by cowboys for centuries, so those who have gone there to tie a bandana to honor the “Father of the Texas Panhandle” didn’t drop in by accident. I’ve tried to research how the practice got started, but could find little about who started it, but thank them.

Do you have any traditions that you’ve observed, but don’t know its origin?  I’d love to have you share them with everyone.  When the day is done, I’ll pick a reader to receive a copy of our latest anthology, “Give Me a Texas Ranger”.

 Give Me A Texas Ranger

Tanya Hanson: Rockin’ Round the Tetons


Two weeks ago I and my hubby T.L., brother-in-law Timmy and sis Roberta (l-r in the pic above) had the experience of a lifetime, taking a wagon train around the Tetons with an amazing group, Teton Wagon Train and Horse Adventures headed by wagonmaster Jeff Warburton out of Jackson, Wyoming. He’s a true cowboy and a gentleman and will be a guest here in Wildflower Junction in the near future.


We’re still in 7th Heaven about our adventure. To celebrate, I’ll send a pdf. copy of my fictional wagon train adventure Hearts Crossing Ranch to one commenter today after a name-draw. So come on down, ya hear?


Yep. We spent four days circling the Tetons through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest bordering Yellowstone bear country. We didn’t see any bear despite everybody’s secret longing.   Likely the thundering horses and our noisy group skeered ’em away.


 We got our start in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with a bus-load full of cityslickers from Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Illinois, us well as Bermuda, Japan, and Brighton, England!  There were about forty of us ranging in age from five to—eighty one! 

First stop on the bus taking us to the wagons were photo-ops of the Grand lady herself..followed by her neighbor Mount Moran reflected perfectly in a oxbow lake.


These scenes were practically perfection in itself..but all breath stopped when we reached The Wagons.

 After a delicious lunch—there’s nothing quite like chuck wagon cooking in the open mountain air—Jeff called, “let the wagons roll” and we were off to our camp for the night.


Pulling them were magnificent draft horses, Percherons and Belgians. They are named in teams, such as Lady and Tramp, Gun and Smoke, Sandy and Sage, Jack and Jill. The first name is always the horse on the left. These glorious beasts are capable of pulling up to 4,000 pounds as a team, and they love to work. In winter, they lead sleighs to the elk refuge outside Jackson.                                                              

While the wagons do have rubber tires and padded benches, the gravel roads are nothing like a modern freeway. As driver  Marisa told us the first day, I get paid extra to hit as many rocks and potholes as I can. Most times our route was called the “cowboy rollercoaster.” 


I’ll always hear Kathy (below on the right) saying, as she drove the wagons,  “Lady, Tramp, step up.” Jeff’s daughter Jessica is on the left. Jessica leads trail rides.


Jeff’s family owns and runs the business and the ranch, and his son Michael, with me below, is an important member of the crew.


Most of the other wranglers are college students who work the ten adventures run each summer.  Foreman Nathan and Camille got married last spring in a Western-themed wedding…Chuck cooks Celeste and Carrie kept us fed. Each adventure starts on a Monday and ends on Thursday, each new trip reversing the course. The crew members take turns two-by-two remaining with the horses for the weekend until the next adventure starts.

This week, sadly, is the last week for 2010. These young people are amazing, multi-talented, multi-taskers who knew each and everybody’s name within ten minutes.  The crew members typically work two or three summers before leaving for internships, graduation, or marriage.  Jeff himself was a a crew wrangler himself as a youngster, met wife Cindy here, and was able to purchase the ranch and the wagon train adventure business a few years later.                                                               


I think everybody’s favorite “crew member” was Buddy, probably the cutest dog ever. He accompanied every trail ride after following the draft horses from camp to camp…he romped in every stream and lake, caught mice, and totally stole everybody’s heart. BTW, he’s probably the first dog ever not to snarf down bacon. He loves the wagon adventures sooooo much that, Jeff says, Buddy’s pretty disgusted to become a backyard dog after the summertime.


Our tents were comfy—all sleeping essentials are provided–, and there was nothing so fine as a cup of Arbuckle’s to warm us up on a chilly evening.  After supper—cowboy potatoes, Indian frybread, and raspberry butter are among our favorites—we gathered around the campfire for Jeff’s tall tales, historical accounts of the Old West, guitar strumming, cowboy poetry and songs, S’mores,  and terrific skits the natures of which I can’t reveal. I don’t wanna spoil the surprise for those of you who might find yourself traveling along with Jeff and the crew in future.  Suffice it to say legends, history, drama, mountain men, melodrama and gunfire played enormous parts in the entertainment. Delish Dutch oven desserts such as peach cobbler and cherry chocolate cake were dished up each night and served to the ladies first.

One of the nicest parts of the meals was Jeff leading us in a blessing first. Nobody had to join in…but seems like everybody did.

Paper is burned in the campfire and only one Styrofoam cup is allotted per day, as everything brought in  the wilderness must be taken out.  We wrote our names on the cups and hung them between meals on a cup line.


                                                                                            I totally loved this paper napkin holder.


Everywhere surrounding us, the Wyoming landscape was full of lakes, greenery and blooming wildflowers.  Nights after the camp quieted down were almost beyond description: the stars are endless, multi-layered, sparkling on forever and ever amen. What a sight.                                                   

But the most fun of all was riding horses!  Folks either rode, hiked, or wagonned it to the next camp each day.   My favorite mount was Copper.


In camp, I threw hatchets, never once hitting my target, and roped Corndog., the pretend cow.  Now, even though the proof is on a video camera, I can’t show you today as we haven’t mastered lifting a “still” off of the video. Jeff taught me all about the “honda” and the “spoke” of a lariat, and I nailed Corndog on my third try. Honest.                              


(My kids were not as impressed when they realized I was afoot and not riding a bucking bronco while roping Corndog, but myself, I am mighty awed.)

Our last day, the Pony Express rode through camp and brought us all mail. 


Me and mine, well, we had the time of our life.  


As Jeff said when we left, “There’s always be a campfire burnin’ for ya here in Wyomin.”



Yep. I’m feeling the warmth right now.



Westward Ho The Wagons

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Margaret Brownley

IN MY BOOK A Lady Like Sarah, my heroine comes across the remains of a wagon train following an Indian attack.  Though it wasn’t necessary to research covered wagons for my story, I’m a firm believer that writers should never miss an opportunity to procrastinate in the name of research. Plus I was curious to know how accurately wagon trains were depicted in those old westerns I grew up with.

Having once ridden in a covered wagon, I know from experience that those teeth rattlers were not designed for comfort.  If you didn’t bake beneath the canvas covers, you’d probably choke on dust.  Most emigrants walked rather than rode but it wasn’t only for lack of comfort.

THE AVERAGE SIZE of a covered wagon was twelve feet long and four feet wide.  That’s about the size of my PT cruiser. By the time I load up my car with a couple of kids and a week’s supply  groceries, it’s packed to the gills.  I can’t imagine trying to haul a household across country in that thing. I can’t even go to church without carrying a piano-size purse. Not only would we have to walk, we’d have to drag pots and pans and probably even a requisite hundred pound bag of flour or two along with us.

Some sentimental souls insisted upon packing grandma’s rocker or family heirlooms but these were soon left on the side of the road. That would have been a problem for my family.  My husband can’t pass so much as a hubcap without pulling over (which explains why our garage looks like Goodwill).

CONESTOGA WAGONS were twenty four feet long and could carry 12,000 pounds of cargo but that much weight required teams of at least eight horses or twelve mules.  Most families couldn’t afford that luxury. A covered wagon could be pulled by as little as one team providing a family traveled light. The most popular animal was the ox, especially during the early years of migration when a mule cost $75 and an ox $25. Oxen couldn’t travel as fast as horses but they were stronger and less likely to stray or be stolen by Indians. They were also able to survive on sparse vegetation.

They did, however, have one fatal flaw; they tended to go berserk when hot and thirsty, in which case they would stampede to the nearest watering hole. If the lake or stream was downhill,  watch out! A wagon’s hand brake was good for parking but not much else. Though a downhill run might have given the kids a thrill, it was definitely a problem for the driver.  

WAGONS AVERAGED  about two miles an hour for a total of ten to fifteen miles a day. A 2000 mile journey from Missouri to the west coast would take about five months—longer in bad weather. Can you imagine spending 150 plus days listening to your kids ask, “Are we there, yet?”   It makes you want to run screaming to the next watering hole just to think about it.

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MOST TRAVELERS didn’t even know where “there” was. John Bidwell, who led a party from Missouri to California, later admitted: “Our ignorance of the route was complete. We knew that California lay west, and that was the extent of our knowledge.

As could be expected, cooking was a chore.  Not only did pioneer women have to get over their aversion to using buffalo chips for fuel, they had to fight wind, insects and sandstorms.   In case you were wondering, a family of four required 1000 pounds of food.

THE PRAIRIE TRAVELER  by Captain Randolph Barnes Marcy provided detailed lists of needed provisions.  No one knew about antioxidants and carbohydrates back then, but much attention was given to something called antiscorbutics for the prevention of scurvy. Whatever it is, it can be found in green grapes and wild onions.  Travelers were also told that they could restock in Salt Lake City but only if they were lucky enough to find Mormons in an amiable mood.

The Captain went into great detail about men’s clothing but failed to offer advice on female apparel.  Women complained about the difficulty of climbing in and out of wagons in hoop skirts.  If necessity didn’t change the way women dressed for the journey, the urgings of exasperated husbands soon did.

Wagons were circled at night to keep the animals corralled and give children a safe play area.  The circle also offered protection from Indians.

MANY WOMEN wrote in their diaries that relationships with Indians were mostly peaceful and mutually helpful.  Does that mean Indian troubles were exaggerated as some historians now claim? 

Not according to authors Gregory F. Michno and Susan J. Michnor who wrote in Circle the Wagons!: Attacks on Wagon Trains in History and Hollywood Films that the bloody Indian attacks depicted in movies prior to 1950s were more historically accurate than the politically correct movies that followed.

INDIAN ATTACKS were by no means the only danger that awaited emigrants.  Accidental shootings and drownings took a toll as did disease.  It’s estimated that there’s one emigrant grave for every eighty feet of the Oregon Trail. 

Although remarkably impersonal, women’s diaries offer a fascinating look into daily life on a wagon train. Keeping up with the wash was pure drudgery but not for Mrs. Hampton who wrote in her diary in 1888 that when her wagon train reached Cheyenne, Wyoming, she sent their company’s dirty clothes to the laundry.  Now that’s my kind of woman.

It’s a relief to know that most of what I learned about overland journeys from those old westerns was true. Though, as far as I can tell, no wagon train ever rolled out of camp to the tune of Westward Ho, The Wagons.   



This is more my traveling style.


Okay, pardners, what about you? 

What’s your traveling style?






Romance Writers of America

               RITA finalist


He’s a preacher; she’s an outlaw. Both are in need of a miracle.


 Coming in September

A Suitor for Jenny (A Rocky Creek Romance)


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When looking for a husband it's best to go where the odds are in your favor.

   Visit me at my homestead:  



The Night Before Christmas – Filly Style!




‘Twas the night before Christmas in this Junction of ours;

The sky over the prairie was ablaze with bright stars;

Our boots were lined up by the fire with care,

In hopes that Old Santa Claus soon would be there;

Felicia’s ornery mule napped snug there in the barn,

Whilst our visiting guest was spinning a yarn;

O’course Winnie in her wool socks and Tanya in her cap,

Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,

When out in the corral there arose such a ruckus,

I sprang from bed to see what the heck was…

…outside the window, there on the barn roof,

Victoria banged open the shutters and near busted a tooth!

The moon was so bright it near blinded my eye

And the snow landed like whippin’ cream coverin’ a pie,

When, what to my hornswaggled eyes should appear,

But a covered wagon and eight dusty reindeer!

With a little old driver wearing boots and a hat,

I knew for durned sure he was related to Pat.

He was cheery and bright, a right jolly cowpoke,

And I laughed when I saw him; he was my kind of  folk.

Those reindeers, they ain’t docile. What a hissy they threw!

Nearly toppled the wagon, and Old Santa Claus too.

Quicker’n a youngin’ off to play hookie,

That old geezer came in and asked Linda for a cookie;

She found one and he ate it, so Stacey got milk

Then Karen, she presented him with a scarf made of silk.

But Mary, she hung back, I think she was a’feared

‘Cause all night she trembled and her eyes how they teared

No worry, Margaret told her, the fat guy’s a friend.

To us in the Junction and those ’round the bend,

Sure ’nuff Santa left a package in each Fillies’ boot,

Didn’t matter none to him, they was dusted with soot.

Then somethin’ happened, caught us all by surprise,

Pam and Cheryl showed up with an armload of pies.

We sat down to eat ’em, and they tasted fine,

Though they couldn’t have baked ’em; They hadn’t had time;

Old Santa asked for seconds; Bet that’s why he’s merry.

He tried pumpkin and apple, even pe-can and cherry.

Charlene heaped on whipped cream, and still he ate more.

His belly how it swelled! Would he fit out the door?

“It’s my big night,” he declared.  “Only comes once a year.”

Good thing for that, too, or he’d burst I do fear.

He stifled a burp, and a pipe out it came;

“Smoking’s not good for you,” we did loudly exclaim.

“All that sugar and now this, think of your health.

“Think of all the children that count of your jolly old self!”

He listened real close and even nodded his head,

Took right to his heart everything we had said.

He tossed that old pipe in the fire with a pop,

“The Missus, she’s been tryin’ to get me to stop,”

With a hearty laugh and a promise to come back.

The Fillies watched that old fella leap up the smokestack.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a yee-haw,

And away they all flew, like twister-flung straw.

And we heard him exclaim as that team took flight,

“Merry Christmas, you bloggers, and to all a good-night.”